Frequency Crunch

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Next-Generation ATC Communications Go Digital...

Last Wednesday, the FAA gave $16 million to ITT Industries of Fort Wayne, Ind., and $21 million to Harris Corp., of Melbourne, Fla., to come up with prototype designs for NEXCOM, the Next Generation Air/Ground Communications System. NEXCOM will integrate data link with digital voice, to make more-efficient use of the available frequency spectrum. The new technology is considered crucial to support continued industry growth -- without NEXCOM, today's 50-year-old communications system would reach its saturation point by 2010. Both companies have 20 months to design and build a working prototype. The winning design will be awarded a full development contract that could be worth up to $400 million by 2012.

...As Technology Expands Capabilities

Harris and ITT each will produce a package that includes the architecture, equipment specifications, and supporting technical documents for the initial systems. They also will develop engineering design models of NEXCOM ground network systems and use them to demonstrate a specified set of NEXCOM capabilities. NEXCOM uses VHF Digital Link Mode 3 technology to provide four communications channels for each single analog frequency in use today for ATC air-to-ground communications. These four independent channels allow simultaneous voice and data transmission between controllers and pilots. That means more ATC sectors can be added and more communications channels can be deployed throughout the national airspace system. The system also provides more options to enhance security than the old analog system. This digital highway then will become the communications infrastructure for NEXCOM.